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It’s been months since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, and Americans have been hit ever since with a barrage of commentary blaming guns, bullets, rounds, magazines and the Second Amendment.
But in terms of actually offering a realistic solution to preventing school violence, it’s taken until now.
Former Arkansas Congressman Asa Hutchinson and a team of experts from around the country spent 90 days reviewing vulnerabilities and best practices when it comes to protecting America’s schools.
The report not only provides solutions for effective student protection, but also highlights vulnerabilities from past incidences involving the targeting of American youth.
In the report you’ll find that the first recorded mass murder by armed gunman wasn’t the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy, but dates into the 1700s when four armed men broke into a school in what is now rural Pennsylvania, killing 10 students.
The National Rifle Association contacted Hutchinson in December and asked if he’d head a project that would offer recommendations to policy makers regarding an increase in school safety around the nation in the wake of the most recent school murders.
He agreed on three conditions. The task force must have:
- Full independence,
- No pre-conceived outcomes, and
- Full support to employ the experts needed to make appropriate recommendations.
The National School Shield Task Force was then formed, and went right to work evaluating strengths and weaknesses in how American school children are protected.
The comprehensive report highlights a number of areas how those children can be better protected, some of which can be implemented immediately and with little or no cost.
Hutchinson detailed in a press conference little things like the placement of surveillance monitors already in schools into a better configuration, with changes in some cases as simple as moving them from ceiling height to eye level as one method of applying best practices.
The group looked at vulnerabilities and best practices in areas such as technology, interior and exterior doors, access controls, architecture and design of schools, armed officers, and layered security.
"One thing the task force looked at is perimeter fencing," said Hutchinson in the press conference. "Sometimes it was found not adequate, or in improper repair."
The group evaluated entry points into schools such as having a single point of access, surveillance monitoring, and the design of exterior and even interior doors.
"A proper exterior door is critical to delaying an armed intruder," said Hutchinson.
He highlighted how simple fixes such as hinge covers and inexpensive card blockers could be added to doors to enhance security.
Another easy solution offered to enhance the security in schools is the sometimes loosely enforced policy on personnel badges or identification worn by adults in the building.
Yet another area Hutchinson mentions is the "often neglected" topic of school bus operations. Hutchinson's team recommends that schools analyze the methods of congregating students in one small area while loading and unloading students.
Many schools across the country have turned to local law enforcement over the past couple of decades to provide School Resource Officers, and although applauded for the effort, the task force suggests "enhanced training" in best practices for all.
Another sometimes-overlooked area of concern that, according to the report, the education system should spend time reviewing is threat assessment, specifically the managing of threat information as it relates to mental health.
According to an article written in 2009 by Carole Devine, the first recorded student perpetrated school shooting in modern America occurred back in 1937 in Toledo, Ohio, when a 12-year old student brought a gun to school and shot his principal in a grudge over a face slap from the previous school year.
Hutchinson highlights the fact that according to the Department of Justice, 71 percent of attackers in school violence incidences "felt threatened or bullied."
He encourages schools to learn how to deal with information regarding incidents of bullying or anti-social behavior.
A final area the task force looked at prior to prescribing some practical cures is in the area of armed officers or in some cases armed staff within schools.
While detractors lament the fact that staff or officers may bear arms in the protection of school children, there is no doubt that the layered approach to defending those kids has been proven effective.
According to the report,
"The past two decades have witnessed a drop in incidences of school violence, including homicide rates and violent crime. This positive trend mirrors the expansion of SRO [School Resource Officer] programs around the country: As more SRO officers have been assigned to schools, school death rates have decreased. These numbers support the notion that the presence of armed officers positively impacts the school environment."
What the task force urges in its first recommendation is that school resource officers or willing staff be given 40-60 hours of comprehensive training in what they call a Model Training Program, designed to cover topics like weapons retention and coordination with local law enforcement, for starters.
Not that all teachers should be armed.
"Teachers should teach," Hutchinson says.
The report suggests that willing and capable staff within the school could save lives in the event of an "active shooter."
Hutchinson speaks about a shooting at Pearl High School in which there was no armed personnel within the school. Two students were murdered, but an assistant principal retrieved a .45 caliber handgun from his truck, confronted the suspect, and disarmed the assailant without firing a shot, most likely preventing many more murders that day.
"Response is critical," Hutchinson says.
There are a total of eight recommendations in the free report which many liberal media voices are already decrying as a "call to arms," even thought the report actually contains numerous comprehensive and practical solutions to protecting American kids.
Joining Hutchinson at the press conference announcing the National School Shield Task Force report was Mark Mattioli, who lost his son, James, in the Sandy Hook tragedy.
"Politics needs to be set aside," he offered. "This report offers recommendations for real solutions that will make our kids safer."
He then urges people to read the full report, and then "do something."